This is a Merieme Mesfioui illustration.

Love at First Sight

A public service announcement.

My parents met at a bus stop on their college campus. They lived in different parts of town, and had totally different sets of friends. My mom’s crowd was into folk music and dry humor and doing crossword puzzles. My dad was ex-army and liked to box. But he saw her at that bus stop one afternoon, took one look at her, and that was it.

“Tell me the story again, about how you fell in love,” I ask my dad.

“You already know the story,” he says, but he’ll indulge me, tell me anyway. He always does. He tells me how weird and delightful her sense of humor was, how devoted she was to her girlfriends and sisters. “Everyone adored your mom. Absolutely everyone.”

My parents’ love story has all the necessary elements of a good one: spontaneous road trips into the mountains, a giddy marriage proposal, an elopment. He loved the way she entered a room, loved the sound of her laugh, her big hazel eyes, body lithe and nimble like some sort of magical forest creature. She thought he was charming and handsome and quick on his feet.

Their early dates involved hiking around a nearby lake, and cooking. Him at the stove, always. Italian, not Turkish, because he was putting on a show for her, trying to impress. At times he rang her doorbell with a black eye or a busted lip and she would be mad at him. What kind of grown man hits for sport? At times he would get jealous of her friends, of the attention she gave them. At times they went to dinner parties at a professor’s house and played footsy underneath the table the whole time. At times, he let her paint him.

I have tried to write about the two of them, the two of them together, about what it must have meant to meet and marry just months later, how it might have felt to board a plane from Turkey to Australia, fingers laced, emigrating with two suitcases between them. I have even tried to write about what it was like to be their only child, always on the outside, looking in.

Some things, I know. Some things, I even regret knowing. I wish I didn’t know they had an incredible sex life, for instance. It’s better not to know, or hear, or walk in on everything, I guess.

I remember the way he would scoop her up when she had a bad day, and carry her to their bedroom. I remember the way they would sit on the couch, side by side, peeling fruit for each other. I remember how he would, in our bathtub, gently wash her body, ravaged with cancer, broken and dying and fragile. Like a wounded bird.

I remember some things. Not everything, but I remember the moments that matter most. And the things I can’t remember, I imagine instead: shy glances at a bus shelter. The first I-love-yous. The last things they said to each other when death came to claim her at last.

October is National Breast Cancer Awareness Month. Please get screened, and make sure the people you love do, too.